a. A coming together or touching, as of objects or surfaces.
b. The state or condition of touching or of immediate proximity: Litmus paper turns red on contact with an acid.
a. Connection or interaction; communication: still in contact with my former employer.
b. Visual observation: The pilot made contact with the ship.
c. Association; relationship: came into contact with new ideas at college.
3. A person who might be of use; a connection: The reporter met with her contact at the mayor's office.
a. A connection between two conductors that permits a flow of current or heat.
b. A part or device that makes or breaks such a connection.
5. Medicine A person recently exposed to a contagious disease, usually through close association with an infected individual.
6. A contact lens.
v. (kŏntăkt′, kən-tăkt) con·tact·ed, con·tact·ing, con·tacts
1. To get in touch with; communicate with: "This past January I was contacted by a lawyer who said he needed my help" (Elizabeth Loftus).
a. To come into contact with: "The [golf] club head did not produce a comforting click as it contacted the ball" (John Garrity).
b. To make contact with; touch or strike: Players may contact the ball only once on a volley.
To be in or come into contact.
1. Of, sustaining, or making contact.
2. Caused or transmitted by touching: a contact skin rash.
[Latin contāctus, from past participle of contingere, to touch : com-, com- + tangere, to touch; see tag- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
con·tactu·al (kən-tăkch-əl) adj.
Usage Note: The verb contact is a classic example of a verb that was made from a noun and of a new usage that was initially frowned upon. The noun meaning "the state or condition of touching" is first recorded in 1626 in the writing of Francis Bacon. Some 200 years later it spawned a verb meaning "to bring or place in contact." This sense of the verb has lived an unremarkable life in technical contexts. It was only in the first quarter of the 20th century that contact came to be used to mean "to communicate with," and soon afterward the controversy began. Contact was declared to be properly a noun, not a verb—and besides, it was argued, as a verb it was vague. Neither of these arguments holds water. Turning nouns into verbs is one of the most routine ways in which new verbs enter English. The examples are countless and familiar. Curb, date, elbow, interview, panic, and park are but a few. The verb contact is but another instance of what linguists call functional shift from one part of speech to another. As for the vagueness of contact, this seems a virtue in an age in which forms of communication have proliferated. The sentence We will contact you when your application has been processed allows for a variety of possible ways to communicate: by mail, telephone, email, or fax. The usefulness and popularity of this verb has worn down resistance to it. In 1969, only 34 percent of the Usage Panel accepted the use of contact as a verb, but in 1988, 65 percent of the Panel accepted it in the sentence She immediately called an officer at the Naval Intelligence Service, who in turn contacted the FBI. In 2004, fully 94 percent accepted contact in this same sentence. See Usage Note at impact.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.